Impeachment was supposed to protect the 2020 election. Now it’s worse off.


After resisting calls for Trump’s impeachment for months, fearing the process would be seen as an effort to undo the 2016 election, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi changed her mind because Trump’s Ukraine call was about the next election; Democrats felt they needed to stop Trump from gaining an unfair advantage in 2020 by attempting to enlist a foreign country’s help. Yet, when impeachment moved to the Senate, the House managers argued that unless Trump was removed from office, the 2020 election couldn’t, as Representative Adam Schiff put it, be “assured” of being “fairly won.” This argument suggests that as long as an acquitted Trump is on the ballot in November, there is a risk the election will be unfair, and that its results cannot be trusted as the genuine choice of the American electorate—a recipe for chaos.

Republicans, too, said their position on impeachment was meant to protect election integrity, by making sure voters have the opportunity to reelect Trump to a second term if that their electorate’s preference. Yet, many Republicans in Congress joined Trump in claiming that the president had done nothing wrong in trying to recruit Ukraine to undermine Joe Biden as a 2020 electoral opponent. To suggest that an incumbent president can do whatever he wants to win reelection, as long as it is not a crime, is an intolerable position from the perspective of protecting America’s free and fair elections.

In other words: Republicans (with a few notable exceptions) have condoned a form of cheating in the presidential race, while the Democratic impeachment managers claim that Trump, even if he makes no further attempts to cheat, already has lost any chance to be a legitimate winner.